Sermon for Easter 6 2019
26th May 2019
Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up”. John 5.7
The Easter Sundays remind us that the Resurrection of Jesus was not an isolated event, stranded in time. When Jesus rose from the tomb, a dam had burst. Out of that dam flowed the love of God in the outpouring of resurrection grace. It flowed into the life of the world for its own revival and for the re-shaping of its destiny.
On each of these successive Easter Sundays our Gospel readings have allowed us to share in the Resurrection and to recall its significance for the reinstatement and the transformation of human lives. We have been sharing the resurrection with those who were the first witnesses. We have been recalling ‘doubting’ Thomas and the finger entering the wound at the side of Christ, and have been sharing breakfast with Him as we recognise the Christ in our midst. We have understood the Easter message as a renewal of our hopes and intentions and as the proclamation of a renewed and transformed ‘divine society’. Easter has surely come to us in the continued outpouring of grace in the life and death and resurrection of Christ, expressed beautifully and succinctly in the conclusion of the Angelus prayer:
Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord,
thy Grace into our hearts;
that as we have known the incarnation of Christ
thy Son by the message of an angel,
so by His cross and passion
we may be brought to the glory of His Resurrection.
Through the same Christ, our Lord.
I want you to see that pouring forth not like trickling water, out of a jug, but as a powerful ‘pouring forth’ which has (finally) escaped from the massive unyielding, age old dam as the roaring of mighty waters possessed of phenomenal baptismal energy. We catch a glimpse of these things in the Revelation of John:
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
To compliment this powerful theological symbolism this morning’s Gospel reading replies in different kind. In St John’s Gospel, we witness in the intense quiet of a Jerusalem portico the terrible staying power of a crippled old man who has for thirty-eight years been waiting for his healing. We have a vivid description of this patient man waiting beside a small water spring, the pool of Bethesda; the ‘house of mercy’. There he waits for the deliverance which has never come. He is never able to get to the water when it springs up. He signifies the type of person who finds themselves waiting on the fact of life as unreconciled; waiting for a healing or a resolution that never seems to come, grappling with questions which remain unanswered and of past conflict which never remains unresolved, waiting in pain. We know that in Deuteronomy 2.14 his thirty-eight years corresponds to the fruitless wandering in the desert of the people of Israel. The old man has spent years and years with his own incapacity as a kind of living doom. And perhaps he is resigned and perhaps he is apathetic or hopeful; we don’t know...
The stirring of the waters comes to us as a quintessential Easter figure. It beckons us toward the healing grace which God is offering us in His Son. Jesus is identified as the same living water which feeds the tree of life in The Revelation of John. In this way we speak about the healing of the ‘whole’ person, the person in their complete humanity, the struggle with a life which perhaps feels only too real and yet in another sense, an exile. Scripture speaks to us today of the healing waters of God's grace which flows over and into this crevice.
The call to believe in Jesus is the one which advances the desire we have, whether we realise it or not, for the healing of our lives at their deepest level, and for that reconciliation with God which is our life’s true purpose. We are not as Christians to be either stoic or casual about these things. The resurrection is God’s promise for our healing. It stands for the inflowing of the divine gift, given to us now as a summons to faith in Him in response to his question 'Do you wish to be healed?' And we are to respond, as best we can, open-heartedly:
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.
Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith was built in the early 1980s and the planners and architect provided generously for what they called a ‘Chaplaincy Suite’. In my time as chaplain, it was situated between the hydrotherapy pool and the genito-urinary clinic: the modern day equivalent of the Pool of Bethesda. It is a pleasing situation because placed where it is both set apart and yet also very accessible, on the ground floor. But it is also pleasing for the quality of the natural light, and for two great works of art, each of them modern stain glass windows, which stand in the sanctuary of the round chapel. The windows were designed and made by John Piper, and renowned for the directness of their viewpoint and for the amazing depth of their colours. The two windows are named ‘The Waters of Life’ and ‘The Tree of Life’. They are there in that light-filled chapel. They are there to speak to the distressed or quietened patient, or to the one who says in their prayer of pain “Sir, Jesus, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up”. I feel helpless now. I am in a desert. From where is my life to come now?
The windows stand as a vivid reminder of the source of life and the means of Resurrection grace. In the setting of a busy hospital, they offer a vision for the healing of the person alongside the usual forms of medical care and yet pointing to the source of healing lying beyond them.
The Easter message repeats itself and this is the refrain :
That in all that makes life intractable, difficult and painful, and for all those things which demand our patient waiting,
Jesus comes to meet us as for our healing just as he came to meet the man at the pool of Bethesda.
Unfathomed love divine
Reign thou within my heart;
From thee nor depth nor height,
Nor life nor death can part;
Our life is hid with God in thee,
Now and through all eternity.